“It’s a Wonderful Life” remains a Yuletide treat for all the right reasons.
It’s sweet, sentimental and brimming with life-affirming moments that have made generations smile. Can anyone hear the name Clarence and not recall Henry Travers’ crinkly presence as the film’s angel?
The horror spin-off “It’s a Wonderful Knife” runs with that template but can’t stop tripping over its own feet. Clumsy, illogical and burdened by woke, “Knife” is the Christmas coal no one wanted.
Winnie Carruthers (Jane Widdop) has a picture-perfect life – on the surface. She has a hunky boyfriend, an adoring family and a loving aunt living nearby.
Too bad her father (Joel McHale, solid in a rare dramatic role) works ’round the clock for the town’s Mayor, a toothy jerk given extra smarm by Justin Long.
A serial killer crashes the holiday season, slaying Winnie’s best friend among other innocents. Winnie kills the brute, dressed like a Moon Knight imitator covered in blood. A year later, she can’t forget how the killer took her friend’s life and soured her on Christmas forever.
Can you blame her?
Everyone else in town has moved on, leaving her emotionally unmoored. She didn’t get much praise for ending the killer’s reign of terror, either.
Just the opposite, actually.
Plus, her insipid father bought her brother a new truck for Christmas while gifting her a garish pink jumpsuit.
It’s enough to make Winnie wish she had never been born, and through a magical twist of fate she gets her request. Except she realizes the killer would keep on killing without her there to stop him. Even worse? Her bucolic small town curdled in her absence.
Now, she has to stop the killer (again) and figure out a way to reverse the spell that erased her existence.
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The concept works, on paper, and it’s an original way to spin something sinister from Capra’s blueprint. It’s the execution that’s an unholy mess.
“Knife” clocks in at a tidy 85 minutes, but much of what’s seen on screen makes little sense. The horror genre hearts plot holes, but director Tyler MacIntyre’s film leaves us scratching our heads so often we might go bald before the end credits roll.
- Why would anyone attack Winnie for essentially saving the town from the serial killer?
- Why would loving parents treat their teen kids so unfairly on Christmas?
- Why wouldn’t Winnie tell the cops to look for a man with bite marks on his arm after she gives the fiend a good, lingering chomp?
That’s just a few of many nagging questions. The film also embraces woke bromides from the jump.
We get not one but two gay romances in the first 10 or so minutes. We see an interracial couple canoodling, plus a white senior citizen’s black granddaughter. Later, a key character goes from straight to bisexual with the introduction of tortured lesbian pal.
That’s Jessica McLeod, playing the town outcast Bernie.
There’s nothing wrong with having several sexual orientations in a film, of course, so let’s set that straw man on fire, and fast. Overloading a project like “Knife” with diversity box checking takes you out of the movie. It’s forced and condescending, and it does the narrative no favors.
None of this damages the film’s enjoyment factor as much as Winnie’s dispiriting attempt to save her town and herself. Once again, horror movie characters behave in the dumbest ways possible, a trope “Knife” leans into for all its worth.
The third act introduces a supernatural twist that dampens the film’s satirical potential. Just why does this small town worship Long’s Mayor?
“Knife” qualifies as a horror comedy but in name only. You won’t laugh, or even smile, at the proceedings, but it wouldn’t be the first genre hybrid to miss half its potential.
The film’s horror bona fides prove equally weak, complete with a depressing color canvas befitting an ’80s slasher film, not a story poking fun at small town USA’s Christmas pageantry.
Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” again over this strained imposter.
HiT or Miss: “It’s a Wonderful Knife” offers a depressing, unnecessary spin on the Frank Capra classic.